Fear of cancer coming back (recurrence)
It is common to feel anxious or frightened about the cancer coming back (recurrence). Most cancer survivors are likely to experience this fear to some degree, and it may come and go for many years.
Learn more about:
- Managing the fear of recurrence
- Will the cancer come back?
- Resources from other organisations
- Podcast: Managing Fear
Worrying about recurrence may affect your physical wellbeing, as well as your ability to enjoy life and make plans for the future. Some survivors describe it as a dark cloud or a shadow over their life.
Over time, this fear usually fades, but it can return at certain times, such as:
- before follow-up appointments, tests and scans
- special occasions, such as birthdays or holidays
- anniversaries of the date you were diagnosed, had surgery or finished treatment
- when other people are diagnosed with cancer
- when you have symptoms similar to those when you were first diagnosed
- the death of a friend or family member
- passing by the hospital where you had treatment, or visiting someone in the same hospital
- hearing media reports about cancer, new treatments and celebrities with cancer
- seeing cancer-related fundraising campaigns or advertisements.
It helps to focus on what is happening now, what is actually know – not all the possibilities. One step at a time.Jane
Managing the fear of recurrence
- Talk to your treatment team about your risk of recurrence and how this will be managed. Ask about the symptoms to look out for and how to distinguish normal aches, pain or sickness from cancer symptoms.
- Focus on things you can control, such as being actively involved in your follow-up appointments and making positive changes to your lifestyle to reduce the risk of recurrence.
- Recognise the signs of stress and anxiety, such as a racing heartbeat or sleeplessness. Manage these in a healthy way, for example, you could try yoga, mindfulness meditation, taking slow, deep breaths or going for a walk.
- Speak with a counsellor or psychologist if the fear of recurrence is overwhelming. They may be able to teach you some strategies to help manage your fears.
- Joining a support group may help.
- Consider getting involved in a creative activity such as drawing, painting or writing. Some people find this helpful in working through their emotions.
- Side effects of treatment can make it harder to cope emotionally. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage any ongoing treatment side effects you are experiencing.
Once treatment was finished, it was quite daunting. I was fearful that the cancer would come back elsewhere. Eight years later, it hasn’t come back, which is fantastic.Pete
Will the cancer come back?
You may wonder how likely it is that the cancer will come back or how long people with the same type of cancer live. Cancer is most likely to recur in the first five years after treatment ends. Generally, the more time that goes by, the less likely it is that the cancer will come back (see Survival statistics).
The risk of cancer coming back is different for each person and depends on many factors, including the type and stage of cancer, genetic factors, type of treatment and time since treatment. Your specialist can discuss your risk with you.
For more on this, see our webinar on managing cancer fear.
Resources from other organisations
- Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre/Peter Mac – Coping with the fear of cancer coming back (fear of cancer recurrence)
- Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) – Fear of cancer recurrence factsheet
- Lymphoma Australia – Fear of cancer recurrence and scan anxiety
- Ovarian Cancer Australia – Fear of cancer recurrence: a guide for women with ovarian cancer and their families